2017 in review

It was a good year, despite a slow start and a general failure at the end. Though I climbed fewer peaks than in 2016, I had plenty of quality climbs, including some wild outings in Canada, a few FKTs, and two daytrips that used my full range of skills, and of which I am particularly proud. With some caveats, I finished my project to dayhike the lower 48. I even saw a total eclipse from the top of a mountain.

Though I should be writing more this winter than in previous ones, blogging will be sporadic, hopefully picking up again next April or May. I hope you had as much fun reading as I had scrambling; I won’t ask whether that fun was type I or type II.


Northern Pickets pano

While they are perhaps less interesting than first ascents of peaks or routes, I managed a couple of “first dayhikes” this summer that I believe are genuine contributions to North American mountaineering.

  • Northern Pickets traverse: This traverse involves around 60 miles and over 15k feet of gain over varied terrain, and includes West Fury, Phantom, and Crooked Thumb, arguably the most remote peaks in the lower 48. According to Wayne Wallace, mine may be only the third traverse of this ridge; it is almost certainly the first solo traverse, and the first car-to-car in a single push. It tested my limits in terms of route-finding, technical rock, navigation, planning, and endurance. With opportunities for escape ranging from difficult to nonexistent, this is a serious and extremely committing outing. The timing is also extraordinarily tight: even with an easier exit to Hannegan Pass, I would have had to do all of the trail miles and some cross-country travel at night.
  • Mount Robson (Kain face): This classic is the first ascent route on the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. While it is possible that someone has done it car-to-car in a single push, it is unlikely for several reasons: the Patterson Spur climbers’ trail, which is much shorter and less hazardous than the standard route via Berg Lake, was created within the last decade; the mountain sees relatively few successful ascents; the climb requires both a wide variety of skills and some tolerance of risk; and while the route is not easy, it is not technical enough to attract world-class mountaineers.

Fastest Known Times (FKTs)

Sir Donald from near Abbott Hut

Due to a different focus and advancing age, I have slightly less speed and power than last year. Given this constraint, I still managed to establish a few respectable Fastest Known Times (FKTs). The first two even make Roper and Steck’s 50 Classic Climbs of North America.

  • Mount Temple (East ridge): This climb has exceptionally good rock for the Canadian Rockies, and ascends an aesthetic line on an iconic peak. I was intimidated by the rating, but the holds were positive and solid enough for me to feel comfortable in trail runners.
  • Mount Sir Donald (NW ridge): This classic line remains one of my favorite climbs anywhere, and may be one of the best climbs of its grade in the world. Someone may have climbed it faster, but locals I spoke to did not know of a time under 5 hours.
  • Glacier Peak: Belying its name, Glacier is a runner’s peak, with only a bit of fairly tame glacier travel near the end. Several local runners could no doubt improve this time, but to my knowledge none of them has. Doug McKeever’s FKT of 7h58, set back in 1998 via the abandoned White Chuck route, is probably beatable by a better trail runner than myself.

Other Canadian highlights

Crux move on knife-edge

  • Asulkan Ridge: While both Sir Donald’s northwest ridge and Asulkan Ridge are rated 5.4, this is much easier, with most of the traverse being easy “exposed sidewalk.” The surrounding spectacular scenery — Sir Donald, the Illecillewaet Névé, Bonney — makes this a wonderful ridge walk, and a good easier alternative to Sir Donald.
  • Smuts: With fairly solid rock, a moderate approach, and spectacular scenery in Kananaskis Country, Smuts is good old-fashioned type I fun.

4 responses to “2017 in review

  1. Louise Hones says:

    Wow Sean. What great feats you accomplish. Have a great and safe winter.
    It was nice seeing you in Seattle with the family. Hopefully, we will see you all together again soon.

    1. drdirtbag says:

      Thanks! This winter should be a little more active than usual, but still pretty quiet, so I would be hard-pressed to get in too much trouble. I’m not sure whether I’ll be climbing in the Cascades next summer, but I’m sure I’ll see you one way or another.

  2. Steven Song says:

    Hey Sean,
    A friend sent me the link to your site today (I’ve never come across this site before) and I have to say I’m absolutely blown away. Oddly enough we did Robson, Deltaform, Whitehorn right around the same time. The faint set of path we followed all the way to the top of Robson (kain face) is probably from yours. We did it in 3 days July 16-18, 2017.

    I live in Vancouver but have spent most climbing time (2011-now since graduation from high school) in the Canadian Rockies. Did Alberta this year too but I can’t do the “FKTs”, not even close. Keep it up man!


    1. drdirtbag says:

      It sounds like you had a great summer! I thought about trying Alberta while I was up in the Great White North this year, but it seemed scary and hard, and a painful dayhike, so I chickened out. Canada definitely has better mountains than the States, but I encourage you to check out some of the highlights down south.

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